All European countries are facing an all-encompassing energy transition, pushed forward by the war in Ukraine. While Western European countries are already in the middle of it, Eastern European countries are yet to speed up. Knowledge sharing can help both sides.
Due to historical and (geo-)political reasons, Central and South-Eastern Europe is still detached from the Western European energy transition. The war has exacerbated this. However, EU recovery plans entailing a fast decarbonisation process and plans for more integrated energy systems require these countries to take the proper steps.
While in Western Europe wind energy is very much incorporated in the energy systems and plans, policies and regulatory barriers in several Eastern European countries are holding them back from exploiting these sources.
Csinszka Bene from Hungary, who wrote her thesis on the energy transition in Hungary and Poland, explains: “Especially in times like this, when we need to substitute a significant amount of Russian gas supplies, there are no credible explanations anymore to keep such regulations in place because it will eventually backfire economically as we move to rapid decarbonisation of our economies.” Hereby she is referring to distance regulations and well as permitting barriers.
She continues: “While in Poland there are promising developments unfolding in both offshore and onshore wind, and I have hopes for Hungary harnessing onshore wind, it remains a difficult issue. The energy sector is highly politicised and it is so hard, even with sound scientific and economic arguments, to convince decision makers that the time for shifting outdated paradigms is now. Otherwise, in ten, twenty years we just won’t have the necessary (domestic) supplies anymore. Next to their steeply decreasing cost, what should make all renewable sources so attractive is that we can supply ourselves with it.”
Csinszka moved to Amsterdam in 2019, to do her Master studies in Environment and Resource Management. Here she specialised in Energy and Climate Governance, which prepared her for her current job as an economic policy advisor at Trinomics – a consultancy firm based in Rotterdam. Here she is working full-time advising international public sector clients, like the European Commission, as well as Member State governments on various energy and climate policy issues.
East Meets West network
With this in mind, in 2019, together with Leon Pulles from the Dutch company Energy Investment Management, she came up with the idea to set up the ‘East Meets West’ network to facilitate knowledge sharing between young professionals working in the energy sector from Eastern Europe, who are studying or working in the Netherlands.
“There are so many ambitious young people from Eastern Europe who moved to Western Europe for all sorts of reasons and who want to eventually give back to their home countries in their own ways. Given that we all focused on the energy transition, we wanted to explore in what areas we could share resources. People who work in the energy business or project development, for example, might not know a lot about policy developments on a national or European level, while others working on regulation or policy are often out of touch with the realities of RES deployment on the ground,”Csinszka explains. The same goes for energy solutions in different geographies: what works in one country, might not be executable elsewhere.
The network enables knowledge sharing via informal meetings as well as various forms of collaboration. The members try to meet up at least quarterly for dinners to connect and share what they are currently working on, or see as important developments/opportunities in the energy transition. “But ultimately what connects people, is that they can get to know equal minded people and form a community with them,”says Csinszka.
Initially set up as a platform for knowledge exchange, through time the network got a more collaborative nature. For one, there is a great collaboration in place with the event and networking organisation Enlit Europe. For the third consecutive year they are participating together on Enlit’s big annual conference and exhibition where they try to co-create activities, including workshops, panel discussions and other information exchange possibilities.
Enlit also have printed publications, including ‘The Guide’ with valuable content about the energy transition. The network contributed to one section, called ‘You’ve got mail from the next generation!’, where they interviewed young professionals about what they would say to energy leaders if they could talk to them. “It’s with honest, short and direct messages, for example to Frans Timmermans, or Volodymyr Zelensky. It was a good way for our members to showcase their ambitions in the energy transition,” Csinszka tells.
The East Meets West network also co-created two big publications with Enlit. One was Csinszka’s own forementioned thesis. The other was the work of Denisa Kasa, who was looking at entrepreneurial business opportunities in the energy transition, specifically in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. While her own work was more policy oriented, Denisa’s work was more focused on the concrete business opportunities in the different segments in the energy systems in these countries. Both papers wanted to draw attention to how much potential there is in the region and how much financing still needs to flow in there, besides citing the historical and current barriers that make these countries lag behind.
Csinszka: “I think that these accessible publications, written by young professionals, are important for showcasing that our generation does have a role to play, and they have the necessary overview and skills to work in this field.”
Another collaboration Csinszka is proud of, is with the Eastern European Students Association (EESA) at Erasmus University Rotterdam. “When we created the network, most of us were at the end of our studies or just starting our jobs, with some of the members already moving into the next stage of their careers. I think it is very important that we can provide opportunities to those people who are at the start of their career,” she explains.
She continuous: “With EESA we held an innovation workshop, which is like a hackathon for young people to pitch their business ideas related to the sustainable transition in their home countries. We were so happy with the outcomes, and so inspired! The ideas that they brought were really refreshing to us. The teams managed to put together a business idea based on bio energy in just 25 minutes, and they could also come with a full-fledged business analysis. These young people, who share similar subjects at university, have immense imagination and knowledge already about business models and what works and what doesn’t work in the energy transition. Conferences are also a good place to reach young professional attendees and get them inspired.”
Csinszka would like the network to stay engaged with student groups like these, to mentor them before they finish their studies and help them choose their careers. This way the network can help them find their ways in the sector and provide them with the necessary orientation if they need that.
The East Meets West network also puts a lot of effort into online content and webinars – they routinely give masterclasses about project development and asset finance in the energy transition, and have also produced a multi-episode interview series where they asked network members specifically about the energy transition in their home countries, what they learned in the Netherlands and what they could bring back home. Csinszka: “These are all examples of valuable practical knowledge that we shared.”
Over time the network developed. Csinszka: “It is a constantly evolving project. Originally we were recruiting people from Eastern Europe in the Netherlands, but then we extended that with people from other European countries, like the Netherlands, Spain and Germany for example, to make sure our members hear different perspectives as well. As we are all doing this in our free time, our long term view is to have a core group of people, say 20 to 30 people, that can easily meet in person and who are keen to participate at conferences and events from time to time – to share knowledge, inform themselves about developments in their respective fields and inspire each other. The ultimate goal is to throughout the years maintain this good professional relationship and cooperate and help each other where we can – also on the job market.”
Energy Investment Management is still facilitating the further development of the East Meets West Network and contributing with their Energy Transition Entrepreneurship & Innovations Program managed by Alifia Bintang Nugroho.
The networking and knowledge sharing is paying off. For one, multiple members either found jobs via each other or successfully used the collective network to land meaningful and high value-added projects in the energy sector, both in the Netherlands or elsewhere. Csinszka is also happy to see that some members are already bringing their experience and knowledge back to their home country. “One of the main goals that we formulated is that if, and when our members move back to their home countries, they are braced with the knowledge that they can apply there successfully. One of our members went back to his home country, Spain, where he is now working for a big energy company on solar PV deployment, after concluding his technical studies and gaining work experience in the energy sector here. We also have a member from Ukraine who wishes to accelerate the energy transition in his home country and is actively looking at how he can help with his acquired knowledge and experience. The war is making this more difficult, but it also brings a sense of urgency.”
Csinszka is also considering going back to Hungary on the medium or long-term and to make an impact on energy policy there. “I think we all have the ambition to bring back knowledge at some point to our home countries. This however depends on the opportunities available. The exposure and the knowledge that we gained through our networking exercises, countless events and presentations, and of course the international work experience that we built up, gives us a big advantage when we go home.”•
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